Should I stay or should I go?

The decision to stay is based on:

  • Individual decision
  • Context of family consideration
  • Available job opportunities
  • Safer political and economic environment

During their studies, students build a perception of their new host country. International students are often open to career options in the new host country and elsewhere. In the beginning of the VALOA project, one of the most commonly expressed comments was that international students are not interested in staying in Finland after graduation. According to a survey conducted by CIMO (Faktaa Express: Jäävätkö ulkomaalaiset korkeakouluopiskelijat Suomeen valmistuttuaan?), 67 % of the international graduates from Finnish universities are still in Finland two years after their graduation. The same survey also states that, according to student unions, around 20 % of international students have a strong desire to stay in Finland and approximately 40 % would like to stay if they are given an opportunity to do so. In most cases, this opportunity entails further education or a job.

In Finland, international students may work 20 hours/week during their studies, and may remain in Finland for 6 months after graduation to look for a job. Canadian immigration procedures are often compared to our system here in Finland. Since VALOA conducted a study trip to Canada in December 2010, and because the employability of international students has also been studied in Canada, we decided to compare the visa policies of international students in Finland as opposed to those in Canada. The immigration policy allows international students in Canada to work any number of hours while they are students and to continue working for 3 years after graduation. Yet this seems to be enough, and research on the employability of international students in Canada states that: “Existing literature suggests that more comprehensive approaches to addressing the career development needs of international students are needed, especially when considering decisions to pursue employment and immigration to the host country.” (Arthur, N. & Flynn, S. 2011).

In Canada, the primary reasons why international students considered staying in the country were better job opportunities and the high quality of life available. Their decisions were also affected by how much their family and partners supported their stay in the host country. The barriers for staying that the students mentioned were cultural barriers and language in particular.

In Canada, students who were prepared to stay or had been actively looking for a job had experienced negative experiences in general, stating that they had encountered cultural barriers and found the application and networking processes ambiguous and difficult (Arthur, N. & Flynn, S. 2011). The feeling among international students is similar in Finland. Employers in Finland are relatively unaware of the new degree system in Finnish universities and of the rising number of international students and the cultural capital that these students bring to the universities and could also bring to work life. Some international students even experience difficulties in finding an internship placement with university funding, although such an internship carries no costs for the employer.

A study conducted by the VALOA project (more info) shows that, in many cases, international graduates who wish to stay in Finland have to lower their career ambitions or accept a job that is not related to their own field. In this case, the length of the visa is not the issue, but rather how to lower the thresholds that prevent immigrants from entering the labor market in Finland.

It is difficult to influence employers, but what universities can do is collaborate with them and actively bring students and employers together so that employers would be more aware of the wide range of students that are educated in Finnish universities. Workers unions could also take on a stronger role in campaigning equal opportunities and recruit more aggressively among international students so that they would join the unions and understand the role of these unions in Finland. More public awareness campaigns for employers are needed. VALOA organized a marketing campaign on international degree programs for employers. You can find information about it here:

In order to make Finland truly international, we need collaboration between universities, employers, and unions!

Barriers for staying:

  • Lack of (Canadian) experience, instability of funding, language barriers, lack of a permanent visa, understanding the work culture, lack of finding the system
  • International students are always comparing life in Canada to life at home
  • The gap between the university and work life builds insecurity
  • International experience can be considered as an asset in the home country
  • Lack of work-life contacts – it is not just about learning how to write a good CV
  • Lack of specific career services and information for graduates
  • Perceptions toward international experience overall – how well is international experience received in the labor market.
    (Nancy Arthur, IAEVG 2011)